NASA JPL's Mars Trek using Cesium Viewer

Congratulations to the crew out at NASA JPL for an awesome job building !!

Lots of news floating around the inteh-webs about this WebGL-based viewer (engadget, reddit, twitter, etc…) showing an absolutely kick-ass way of letting folks interact with Mars-centric geospatial data.

'cause y’know “someday”, Elon’s gonna get us all out there, and it’s kinda cool to have a browsable map before you get there… :wink:

I poked around the source for it for a few minutes and “discovered” that it’s using Cesium Viewer (at least it does when you switch to the 3D view using the icon in the lower left toolbar)!

It’s a little picky about browsers at the moment, and didn’t seem to like my iOS 8.4 version of Safari Mobile but works like a champ on Chrome. I didn’t poke any deeper into the code to see what version of the viewer they’re using, but maybe if I find some time over the weekend…

So all you folks interested in doing stuff with the Red Planet with Cesium (or any planetary body I suppose), here’s a pretty cool showcase to look at from the NASA guys who continue to bring us imagery, terrain, and all sorts of interesting metadata from the surface.

Me, I’m gonna scout around the Colles Nili to see if it’s worth “homesteading”. Property values are sure to go up in value soon.

Once again, Great Work JPL guys, whoever y’all are. Sing out on the forums if y’all are allowed to brag about it, or if you want the Cesium Core group to link to your work in the Demo showcase section.



P.S. Anyone working on a Pluto viewer for all the cool new data coming the New Horizons probe ?

{disclaimer: I work for AGI, but not as part of the Cesium Core group. I’m just a big fan ;-)}

Thanks Frank for the complements and reciprocal kudos for the AGI/Cesium team for such a great framework to build off of. We’re a fairly small but dedicated team that built MarsTrek and it’s been pretty crazy the past few weeks getting everything ready for the public release, but it’s great that everyone can finally see and use it.

I’ll add a plug for VestaTrek (, which we released a few months ago using a similar framework as Mars. If you want to see Cesium used “improperly,” definitely check out the 3D view on that asteroid.

So some behind the scenes info:

We are using a slightly older Cesium build, version 1.6, I think. That was the most recent version when we decided baseline the code and work more on adding data. Cesium adds a lot of new features every release, so we’re hoping to update it for the next release and add more capabilities we currently have in 2D into 3D. We didn’t have enough resources to do comprehensive mobile testing for the initial release but it’s definitely something we’d like to optimize in the future.

We had some challenges with planetary terrain. On Mars, there are no oceans and the elevation can extend several kilometers above/below “sea level” elevation. Because of that, we couldn’t use the heightmap format so I ended up writing a quantized mesh tiler to handle the terrain. In addition, if you go somewhere like Valles Marineris where you’re below the reference ellipsoid and below the horizon, tiles start popping in and out at random because the culling algorithm doesn’t handle that case gracefully. Fortunately we were able to fix most of the major issues, but there are still a few that bug me. For example, the gap between the atmosphere and the surface, which I believe is due to the negative elevations. Maybe we’ll get it fixed in the next release.



Hi George,

Awesome app! Has anyone from the Cesium team been in touch with you about showcasing your work on the Cesium website (like these)? Email me and we can get it setup -

if you go somewhere like Valles Marineris where you’re below the reference ellipsoid and below the horizon…

For Cesium 1.13 (maybe 1.12, but I can’t say for sure), we will have better support for when the camera is close to the ground, which includes fixes for issues like #2271 and #2415. This has been a popular request from all the users moving from Google Earth to Cesium. I’m not sure this will fix all the negative altitude issues, but it will help for sure.



Would your group be interested in working a collaboration to create a Cesium-based page for the Juno mission to Jupiter ? (

I'm thinking something along the lines of the "Eyes on Pluto" app, but entirely web-based and focusing on the Juno trajectories and sensor pointing, much like how the NHPF mission profile was previewed in the app.

It's still almost a full year away, but might be something you could poll your folks about, and I can check around on my end.

I don't know if your group also does the "Eyes on the Solar System" app, (which is pretty damn cool BTW), but having a web-based version would make sharing all that information so much easier.

If you'd prefer to chat offline, you can reach me at:

f s n y d e r (at) a g i (decimal) c o m

(sorry, email-harvesting, forum-trolling, bots give me the willies...)



P.S. the VestaTrek example is WILD !! Is that the actual, no shit, datum and height-field topology of the asteroid ? Dawn was able to gather all that information from just one year of orbits ? I had no idea all that data existed at that fidelity. Great way to showcase it...

Also loved the sun-angle tool and the way you let the user interact & create "calculation queries" against points they place on the surface. Reminds me of what some clever colleagues of mine did for GPS calculations served as a service ( Very cool stuff !